Virgil Van Dijk – Guardian of the Anfield galaxy
In the current age of superhero-centric pop culture, it is only natural that the best professional athletes will be compared with the most popular members of the Marvel or DC universes. In fact, my esteemed colleague, Jordan Gerrard, even wrote an entire piece of these comparisons not too long ago.
When I think of our towering No. 4, Virgil Van Dijk, the superhero comparisons do not restrict themselves to a single character, but an entire team. That team that compares best with VVD with none other than (cue the majestic fanfare music) Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy™.
For the uninitiated (what rock were you guys hiding under?) the Guardians comprise of Star-Lord™, Rocket™, Gamora™, Groot™ and Drax the Destroyer™: a diverse team with a plethora of strengths and weaknesses. These happen to be some of my favorite characters and, coincidentally, I have also gravitated to Big Virg as my favorite Red out of our current group of legends.
In my humble opinion, Liverpool signing VVD was akin to installing the first cannon to guard the fortress of Anfield. His debut against Everton in 2018’s FA Cup fixture against Everton was a game to remember.
Liverpool has possessed some of the best strikers in club football during the reviled 30-year title drought. Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Stan Collymore, Michael Owen all shook the Kop with the most sublime and explosive goals, but none were able to win the domestic title, though they came awfully close.
It is not a coincidence that our wait ended when we signed two of the best in the world at centre-back and goalkeeper. Both these positions had been previously neglected in favor of splurging large amounts on attacking talent.
Virgil, through his play and leadership, is a combination of facets of each of the Guardians mentioned above. Please allow me to elaborate:
Charismatic like Star-Lord™
The first attribute that came to my attention about Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord was his confidence. The one human among a group of characters with extraordinary attributes, he relied solely on his wits, and did not hesitate when it came to stamping his authority on a group of diverse and idiosyncratic warriors. This is proof that one does not need to be the most electrifying or talented to be a leader.
A lot of people questioned the fee that Liverpool paid for Virgil. He was coming off an injury at Southampton and most observers were not impressed by what he brought to the table. The consensus was that he was good, but not worthy of being the most expensive defender in club football.
If the pressure got to him, he did not show it. The man was unflappable from the moment he put on a Liverpool shirt, and he did not dwell on his own miscues. His confidence was a product of his belief in his own talent and intelligence. The man is like a nuclear submarine with a built-in Intel™ processor.
He was the quick-thinking leader that Liverpool needed to take on the big money demons like Manchester City and Chelsea. After years of suffering the mental lapses of Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, the Anfield faithful were ready to embrace him.
Resolute like Groot™
A sentient tree with magical powers…. who can only say one sentence. He is imposing and strong. and typically steps in only as a last resort when things really get out of hand. That is about as far as I will go to try and explain Groot to those of you who aren’t comic geeks.
Virgil intimidates with his sheer physical presence. He is the enforcer on this team and is always there to back up his teammates if the opposition gets confrontational or a game gets chippy.
A good example of this would be Liverpool’s league fixture against Arsenal during the 2018-19 season. The game at Anfield was notable for the Reds but forgettable for the Gunners, as they were on the receiving end of a 5-1 mauling. The game’s most memorable moment was Van Dijk stepping up to Arsenal’s thuggish Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos as the teams were walking back to their dressing rooms at halftime.
It was Big Virg taking the initiative to protect a teammate and signal to the opposition that the Reds would not be bullied. This was the type of player that Liverpool had lacked for a long time: someone who won’t bat an eyelid to protect his teammates and assure them that if things got sticky, he would step up to sort things out.
Quick like Gamora™
A first look at Virgil, without ever seeing him play, might cause a casual observer to mistakenly assume that he is just a plodding giant out in the field. Something like Harry Maguire or Burnley’s James Tarkowski.
But that is so far from the truth. The man has the speed to go with his size and could easily play as power forward in the NBA. He possesses the speed to catch up ground when the other team is on the attack, and also the bounce to head in goals or defend headers.
Gamora can move fast, jump high and possesses lightning-quick reflexes. Seeing Van Dijk in person – I was lucky enough to attend the Champions League quarterfinal against FC Porto in 2019 – made me realize what an athletic marvel he was. He caught my attention even while Salah, Mane and Firmino were making their breathtaking attacking forays to goal. Van Dijk was swift enough of mind to thwart many attacks in their initial stages.
Clever like Rocket™
The key to being successful at centre-back is to be able to anticipate an attack and be one step ahead of the opposition. Such a quality is not obvious to the casual football fan, but the students of the game are able to see how a good defender positions himself on the field to stop opposing strikers at the earliest point possible.
A lot of Van Dijk’s exemplary work is done even before the ball passes the half-way line. He coordinates with either Matip or Gomez so that they can be ready to stop any wave of attack before the strikers get threateningly close to goal.
In the comic books and movie, Rocket is a feisty character who is always thinking about threats to the Guardians’ plans and schemes. Which is why his mind is always ticking with ideas to thwart any moves their enemies might make.
Strong like Drax the Destroyer™
Drax the Destroyer is the relentless, brute force for the guardians. No more needs to be said.
VVD brings the muscle to this team, in addition to being a central part of one of the strongest spines in club football. In the past, Liverpool was hard pressed to match the physicality of opposing strikers like Didier Drogba and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. We had little to no answers when our defenders would bounce off these powerful attacking players.
He is the physical specimen that we have long desired to see as supporters of the Reds. His physical stature, aggressive body language and menacing scowl are all part of a complete package that can mess with the psychology of the most confident players in the league and in European competitions.
Guardian of the Kop
Van Dijk is undoubtedly the leader for the club from the defensive point of view. Between him and Henderson, the club has a solid foundation for a club that can continue their dominance in the Premier League. His commitment to the Liverpool cause has also been instrumental in Jurgen Klopp’s efforts to build a winning culture throughout the club.